Notes: Duncan first behind Pujols

Notes: Duncan first behind Pujols

JUPITER, Fla. -- Drafted as a first baseman, Chris Duncan spent most of the first five years of his professional career playing that position. But in 2003, an enormous roadblock was placed in Duncan's way: Albert Pujols moved to first.

It's no coincidence that right about that time, Duncan began the transition to the outfield. That's been his position for the past two seasons, and it's the position where he emerged as a potent force in the Cardinals' lineup.

Fortunately, Duncan never put away his first baseman's mitt. It turns out he'll be needing it this spring.

With the release of Scott Spiezio, there's no obvious backup first baseman on the St. Louis roster. That's meant innings at first for Duncan, who appeared at the position each of the past two days and started there on Saturday.

"I think it's just kind of obvious that I should probably take some ground balls," Duncan said. "I definitely have experience playing there. They put me at first base last year when Spiezio was gone. I kind of look around and realize that maybe it's something that I'm going to have to do a little bit of. I'm definitely OK with that."

With seven outfielders for five spots, Duncan's versatility helps manager Tony La Russa evaluate more candidates at a time. Duncan can get his at-bats while three other outfielders show off their stuff in the lineup -- even four, including the designated hitter.

"[Duncan] likes playing first, but I think focusing on left is the way to go," La Russa said. "Except that when you start looking around at guys that could play first base, it's not Juan [Gonzalez]; [Ryan] Ludwick doesn't do it. And he likes to play it."

Ryan starts again: Brendan Ryan's chances of making the Opening Day roster increased quite a bit when Spiezio was released. But the bigger key for Ryan is simply to play well -- which he has done throughout camp.

Ryan has played outstanding defense, and he went 2-for-3 as the starting shortstop on Friday. On Saturday he got another start, this time at third base as Troy Glaus received a day off.

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"With Glaus sitting, it really came down to Ryan or, it would be good to get [David] Freese a game," La Russa said. "[Freese has] played twice and hit two bullets. It would be a nice game for him. But you don't know how long he'll be here. If Brendan would have had a tough day, I probably wouldn't have played him. But he gets a couple base hits. It's a good time to get him another game."

Ryan played well again on Saturday, but came out of it with a battle scar. He was plunked on the right elbow when he tried to get back to first base on a pickoff attempt.

"He got me good," Ryan said. "It's just a bruise. They checked me out, all the strength and stuff."

Quotable: "There's a good possibility we may not be as bad as people think we're going to be."-- La Russa

Bits and pieces: The Cardinals released Minor Leaguer Donnie Smith on Friday, a day after he was arrested for felony battery. ... Matt Clement will throw a bullpen session on Sunday. ... Third-base coach Jose Oquendo is no fan of wearing a batting helmet while he's on the field, calling it a "pain in the [behind]. It's hard, uncomfortable."

Weather report: Just another day in paradise. The forecast calls for a high temperature pushing 80 degrees, decent breezes and lots of sun.

Coming up: The same two teams meet again on Sunday, in Game 2 of the "home and home." McClellan, one of the more-intriguing stories of camp thus far, will take the mound for the Cardinals. McClellan has impressed the Cardinals' coaching staff in early workouts and has gone from a very long shot to someone who might have a chance to make the team. Scott Olsen will start for Florida, with game time set for 12:05 p.m. CT.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.